I wrote this back in 2009 in response to all the “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” questions and recollections that were being circulated around the Internet. I’ve reposted it many times in the hope that I’ll continue to recall not just the horrific facts of that day’s events, but the feelings with which I associate it. To this day whenever I hear replays of the news broadcasts of that day, the feelings, anguish and anger can be nearly overwhelming.
Even though I wasn’t near any of the three places that were scarred forever by the acts of a few, 9/11/2001 changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined then and which I sometimes don’t believe even now. Regardless, I will never shake the feelings that 9/11 evokes in me nor do I ever want to. More importantly, I wish that all of us could share the unity, resolve and dedication to our nation and our common defense that we all felt in the days and weeks following that awful day in 2001.
Thanks for reading.
“So, do you think the Army’s going to call you up because of this?”
“I sure as hell hope so.”
That was the big question my supervisor at the E! Channel asked me on 9/11. While I did eventually get called up, I’d gladly give up all the financial and professional gains which resulted if it had never happened. But that’s not what these words are going to be about.
I was awakened that morning by a phone call from my mother-in-law who told us in frantic, disjointed words that something bad was happening. As a native New Yorker, she was understandably shaken at learning that Manhattan was under attack. The message was related to me by my spouse at the time who slammed into the bedroom and shook me awake and said “Wake up! The Pentagon’s under attack!”
I got up, rushed to the TV in a groggy stupor and saw the story as it was unfolding, still in chaos. Information was rolling into news agencies willy-nilly and much of what was heard and reported was unconfirmed. I dressed and hurried to work in the Wilshire District in LA, near the La Brea Tar Pits. The streets of Los Angeles were relatively deserted – not empty as they were during the LA riots in 1992. But it was clear that people were staying home. Businesses closed for the day and many more operated on essential staff only. Which is why I was going to work.
When I arrived at E!, I could see that many of the national cable networks which shared our satellite space had either gone dark or were carrying coverage from one of the big three networks. It was at that moment that the enormity and the immediate practical impact of this event on this Nation became apparent. Even broadcast commerce stopped for a time – shopping networks were carrying round the clock news coverage. Sports channels and others had full-screen graphics up telling people to tune to a network broadcast and follow the news.
One of the positive things about working at a TV network with all measure of high-tech TV equipment is that we could monitor as many TV stations as we had monitors. And we had plenty. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC all raced to get pictures and firsthand accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the air. I flipped back and forth from moment to moment and channel to channel trying to find the best pictures. No one had a lock on the best, so it was back and forth from channel to channel.
As for what I was doing in between times, E! was trying to decide whether to take coverage from a major news network or stay with the on-air schedule without regard to the situation. My job was to design on-screen graphics in support of either option. Ultimately, E! chose to stay with their own programming rather than switch to one of the majors. I will not debate that decision, but I will observe on my own behalf that I had no interest in entertainment fluff at that point, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling differently.
From the moment it sank in just what was going on, my heart was heavy, but my fists clenched in preparation. When my terrific boss, Ken Mason, asked me if I was going to get called up, not only did I hope so, but I was hoping it would be within the hour. For the rest of the day, most of us sat in network control going about our business with about as much feeling as the machines supporting us. It was quiet and the sounds of our air signal were mixed with the sounds of the coverage coming from ancillary equipment racks where the carnage of the day was being replayed over and over.
I would be many months before I actually got called up and reported here to Washington, D.C. in January, 2002. I spent the next 71 months assigned to the Pentagon in various assignments, some 9/11 related and others not.
A year after the attacks, our office moved into the rebuilt section of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, the small indoor memorial and chapel was opened. Whenever I thought I was being unfairly put upon, I’d stroll the 30 seconds down the E-ring to the 9/11 memorial and stand for a minute or two.
It gave me perspective in two profound ways. It made me recognize that getting picked on that day wasn’t really so bad, and that any one of these people whose biography and photo were in one of two books would give anything to be in my predicament. Alive. Within reach of those about whom they cared. And it humbled me. Standing there for only a moment made me remember why I was there and that I had better do the best job I could.
Eight years have passed since the attack on our Nation. Today, while driving into my civilian job, I listened to replays of the coverage from that day and remember what it felt like that day. How shocked and horrified. How angry. How resolute. I suspect that will never change. I suspect that I’ll always feel the intense mix of emotions on this day. And I’ll fight back the tears on this day just as I did on this day eight years ago.
For many, the feelings we experienced that day have already escaped us, relegating the horror of the day to a collection of historical facts, figures and stately memorials to those who perished. It is right that we recall the facts and honor those who were murdered that day. However, it is my wish that somehow the shock, horror, anger and resolution I felt – that most everyone felt that morning – stay with us and unite us as it did on 9/11 and in the shadows of that day.
Eight years hence, we find ourselves a divided Nation when in truth, there’s so very much more about us that is alike than those things which divide us.
I wish we weren’t so divided and I have no solution as to how to unite us. I just know that we have it in us. The days following September 11, 2001 were some of America’s finest.
Remember what that was like. Not just today on this horrific anniversary. But every day.
It would serve us all well.
Ken Mason – Don’t know if you’ve seen your mention in this essay.
Thank you Dan. I’m glad you re-posted. I’m disappointed that Patriot Day has become just another work day.
Ken – I agree. Damned disappointing.
Well said, colonel. Well said.
Unfortunately, we are even more divided today than we were when you first wrote those thoughts. It’s a shame it takes a tragedy of that proportion to bring us together: and it’s a bigger shame that we quickly forget and retreat back to our side of the room. It’s like a bad ‘Sadie Hawkins’ dance and no one likes the music!
Thank you, Dan – For everything!
Steve – First off, great to hear from you! It’s always a pleasure, sir!
I have to agree with you that divisiveness have become the norm particularly the last few years. Politics has a lot to do with that and the media has a lot to do with THAT. No one can be held harmless for allowing us to become as separated from each other as we are now. We all have a stake in our futures and we can assure our secure and successful futures by concentrating on the things we have in common, not those things about which we differ.
I’ll also share this one. I’d forgotten that I posted this a couple years ago.
Dan, last week, my wife and I visited the Flight 93 Memorial. Our first visit. It was quiet. And humbling. I highly recommend it. I hope to get to the Pentagon memorial sometime as well.
Dave – I went to the Flight 93 memorial about a year or so ago. It was a frigid day in mid winter and it was just as moving and as solemn as anything I’ve seen. Remarkable.
Let me know when you’re in town! I’d love to see you.
Great blog, Dan. I was on the other side of the building #3Dsomethingorother for the OSD readiness assessment office, on the direct line of the flight path. While watching WTC on my boss’ office TV, we heard the explosion, felt the building shudder, and saw the fireball over the roof across from us. Pretty interesting day…
Bill Hughes – First of all, thanks for the comment. I heard so many stories such as yours when I got to HQDA the January after 9/11. I can’t imagine what those of you who were there endured over the hours, days and week that followed. Thank you for your service, sir!
We went to a very well attend ceremony at Sunset Beach, Cape May County NJ. If it wasn’t for the flags, all of the firefighters including John and I wearing shirts, vets with hats, and Facebook it sadly would have been lost as a normal day which bothers me greatly. I was in 10th grade drivers ed class and everyone’s phones started going off but no one checked them until one of the other teachers ran in and told us to turn on the TV. Shock and a sense of surrealism was how the room was. Classes for the rest of the day were all discussions about why, how, how to fight back, and the people lost.